How to stop wasting food


We throw away roughly 1.3 billion tonnes of food every single year – almost a third of all food produced every year, casually thrown in the bin. This amount of food is enough to fill a mountain half as tall as Mount Olympus in Greece – over 2km high and 3km wide. 

This is more than a little crazy, given there are still people struggling to feed themselves in almost every country in the world. In New Zealand alone we throw away 157,000 tonnes a year. This could feed Dunedin for three years!

What is food waste?

Food waste is uneaten, discarded food. There are a few different routes that food can take before dying an untimely death in the bin, including:

  • Production errors that make an item unsaleable
  • Damage to packaging, rendering the product unsaleable or spoiled
  • Fruit and vegetables considered on the ugly side (even though we ALL know it’s what’s on the inside that counts, right?)
  • Food expires, unsold, on shelves
  • And then there is the main offender, right at the very end of the food chain, the consumer

Avoid being a bin bandit

We can all do better by putting a few key strategies in place to avoid being a bin bandit.

  • Plan your meals every week and buy only the food you need for your meals
  • Be realistic about how much food you need to make per meal, and either plan for leftovers or don’t
  • Use leftovers to your advantage - when making dinner, plan to have the same thing for lunch or dinner again the next day
  • Freeze food you know you won’t eat in time, but only if you’ll really use it later – frozen fruit/vegetables are perfect for making stock, smoothies and baking, but if you aren’t going to use frozen food, compost it instead
  • Make stock with saggy old vegetables and/or chicken carcasses/meat bones
  • Dairy items, such as cheese and milk, can be frozen and defrosted as needed

Make food last longer by storing it properly

We tend to store all food items the same way: dry foods go in jars or stay in the packet, all herbs go in water or in the fridge, but this just isn’t how food – or fridges - work. Each food has its own character and storage loves and hates.

Do a little homework on how to best store each food that you constantly throw out and see if you can make it last longer in the miracle that is your fridge.

Fridges work by sucking the moisture out of the fridge cavity, and any bare vegetable is going to get the moisture sucked out of it faster if it’s not correctly stored.

Better storage helps and sometimes it just takes a little knowledge and pre-planning to save food. Here are a few simple examples:

Making carrots last longer

Put your carrots in a jar and fill to the top with water, place in the fridge. Vegetable crispers are renowned for their uselessness and poor treatment of carrots – limp, brown, shrivelled carrot anyone? If you do end up with these poor fellows in your fridge, freeze them until you’re ready to make stock.

Making lettuce last longer

Wrap a damp tea towel around your lettuce or invest in a lettuce-saver container to keep your lettuce crispy.

Making coriander last – and remain perfect – for weeks

Coriander lasts an amazing amount of time if you put the roots in a very small jar of water, then put whatever your equivalent of a freezer bag over the whole thing, and fasten with a rubber band at the bottom, then put in the fridge.

Making cheese less crusty and dry

To avoid crusty-edged cheese, wrap your cheese in one of our handy dandy cheese food wrap systems or an airtight container. Also, stop touching cheese with your filthy mitts! Try to remember to wash your hands before touching cheese, as your hands directly transfer the greeblies (moulds) to your cheese, causing it to go mouldy faster.

Reusable cheese wrap system

Dehydrating food

You don’t even need a fancy dehydrator to dry food – your oven is perfectly fine. You can dehydrate many foods and use as snacks like bananas, apples, and even some meals.

Preserving or freezing fresh fruit and vegetables

Preserve or freeze produce, such as peaches, feijoa, tomatoes and so on. Find out what produce will explode if you try to freeze it whole, and which foods it doesn’t matter for. An example is tomatoes – these will explode if you try to freeze a whole tomato, but if you are later making tomato sauce, it doesn’t matter.

Use up seasonal excess by making pasta sauce, chutney, jams – these can last up to a year. While it’s not everyone’s cup of tea – and it does take a lot of time – preserving can be really rewarding, especially if you have lots of the same fruit or vegetable. It does take some practice and the right methods/tools, but if you have the fruits, it’s worth a try.

If you must dump it, do it right

If your food has truly lost the will to live and you must get it out of your kitchen, one of the following methods could work for you. You want to promote and support the cycle of life by giving back to the earth.

  • Compost it (search google for compostable food, there are rules) and then later use that compost to improve the soil in your garden
  • Find someone else who wants compost (there are websites to find local compost to donate to, including community gardens)
  • Find someone who has chickens or pigs (or get some of your own) and set up a system of delivering the animal food that works for you both
  • Start a worm farm and use worm juice and the casings (worm dirt) as a fertiliser for your garden
  • Get a Bokashi pre-composting system that you can put any food into – that’s right, any food at all including meat, dairy and eggs. These fermenting systems are great for apartment living, but you do need a garden (any garden) to put the pre-compost into to finish the cycle

If you’re really stuck, look for ideas on your local zero waste or composting pages or ask for help. There are plenty of options, you just have to find the one that suits you and your family the best.

Ways to help others in your community

Sometimes life throws us excess food. Maybe your neighbour has a bustling orange tree but they’re allergic to citrus. Or your garden had a kick-arse season but your appetite or freezer are tiny. There’s always someone else who can make use of this extra food.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Community fridges
  • Women’s refuge
  • Local food bank
  • Community kitchens
  • Sharing shelves

If you have excess food, either edible or non-edible, and no way of storing it or using it yourself, then pass it on.

References:

Sunshine Consulting. (2018). 'New Zealand Food Waste Audits'. 

Gustavsson, J., Cederberg, C., Sonesson, U., van Otterdijk, R., & Meybeck, A. (2011). 'Global food losses and food waste'.

Lyons, K., Swann, G., & Levett, C. (2015). 'Produced but never eaten: a visual guide to food waste'